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Sunday, March 22, 2020

How Desperate Was Flynn's Journey

Behind-The-Eight Ball Errol Draws Patron and Schoolboy Cheers

Best finds in life are ones we stumble over. I read James Agee’s November 23, 1942 review of Desperate Journey --- was delighted he focused more on the audience at San Francisco’s Fox Theatre than the Flynn frolic many of us know by heart. Context: Errol lately arrested (October) for statutory rape of two underage girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee. He was in deep, and who could guess how this mess would resolve? Desperate Journey had come out in late September. Agee penned of travails shortly after (in a separate column), called them a “Cinemess,” him clearly having sport with Flynn in a jam. As things worked out, so would the Fox audience. “Errol Flynn’s wild oat may flower into a greater popularity than he has ever known,” said the critic, “ … the verdict of the cinemasses was warm, spontaneous, and ribald.” In fact, the Frisco crowd “had the time of its life” with Desperate Journey, wrote Agee, “Fans cheered and applauded Flynn’s first appearance on the screen. Later, when he murmured dreamily of the Girl Back Home, they gave the wolf cry --- a long drawn out wooooo-woooo-ooo!” Certain of Errol lines saw the house “broke into a dionysiad of whistles, wolf calls, boos, (and) belly laughter.” Agee reported such conduct widespread at theatres showing Desperate Journey.

Legal Eagle Jerry Giesler, At Left, Formulates Plan To Spring Errol

First goal of mine: Find out if “dionysiad” is really a word, or something Agee invented to get across verbal punch. Turns out it sort of is, as there is “Dionysian” on the books, inspired by a Greek god Dionysis, but Agee didn’t capitalize his word, and you’d think any derivation on a Greek god’s name would merit that. Not to mock, for we know I cook up screwy non-words here at Greenbriar, and will continue to, in the interest of showing off and appearing cleverer than I am, so am warm with kinship toward Agee, who was a great reviewer and left hundreds of deft columns to mark his way. Not content with mere like-or-not of movies, Agee often reviewed fellow onlookers, was sharply observant of their reaction to shows. That for me is priceless window to how Desperate Journey was received and enjoyed by a crowd hopped up on headlines detailing Errol’s own desperate plight. Would that he were stuck behind Berlin lines; there might be better chance of wriggling out of those. And what was it about “wolf calls” ripening with the war? Andy Hardy made woo-woo his signature. Soldiers and sailors had little vocabulary beyond them, or so it seemed (Anchors Aweigh awash with the gag). Try a wolf call now and you’d end up in civil court, or on a train to Atlanta. For that matter, imagine Errol Flynn standing latter-day trial. As it was, he had a fueled plane and pilot in readiness should evidence go south. Well, didn’t Robin Hood always have escape plans at the ready? I suspect adolescent boys took Errol’s part --- in fact, I’m told a young William F. Buckley organized a defense club for his hero. How far did youth support go? I called longtime friend Conrad Lane to get the lived-it truth.

Giesler Said a Mostly Femme Jury Would Acquit Errol --- and They Did 

Appreciative Handshakes For Each Juror from Flynn
Conrad, who has enlightened us previous, was twelve when cuffs were put on Flynn. From that moment, his schoolyard was Errol-central, a virtual wire service where no detail was overlooked or ignored. When had daily news been so titillating? And you didn’t have to buy it from under counters. This was on front pages at the breakfast table. I wonder how many boys got the full birds-bees curriculum from Flynn. He was known for arranging rites of passage to manhood (son Sean ushered by Dad to a brothel for his education). Conrad’s crew rooted for Errol start to finish, his forty-yard dash through halls of justice one they’d cheer to triumphant pay-off that was acquittal. Was there even a war on? May-be, but for this juve crowd, it was a Page Two event. The rush for fresh Flynn at theatres was profound. Yes, his career got a big spike. Conrad recalls going to see Edge Of Darkness and being turned away. The print had not arrived, said management (a previous booking that refused to give it up?), so Conrad was obliged to go up the block to The More The Merrier, which proved a pleasing alternative.

Offending "Attack" Line Renders Useless This Intended Herald From The Pressbook

Again from Agee’s column, he mentions Desperate Journey’s theatrical trailer and Warners’ “already famed deletion,” from that preview, “of one line about Flynn and his RAFish companions: They know but one command: Attack.” I wondered about that famed deletion, and whether evidence of the cut might survive. Turns out it does, and plainly obvious it is, the trailer narration ID’ing Flynn as “a fighter who knew but one command …,” the word “ … Attack” having been dropped, with an audio gap as result. What we have of the Desperate Journey trailer lacks graphics, but scenes and the spiel are there, accessible at You Tube and TCM’s site. We may assume that initial audiences were sufficiently regaled by the “Attack” reference that it had to be removed. The line was expunged from print ads, as indicated by the pressbook, latter published and distributed before the Flynn arrest, and having to be cleaned up in an aftermath. Note the printed “VOID” beneath the offending promo, exhibitors advised not to use the blurb. Ads that featured in newspapers went with alternative come-ons, “Five Fighting Furies on a Mission of Reckless Peril,” and the like. Desperate Journey saw successful dates, the more so for its now-notorious star. We’ll never enjoy it through eyes of 1942-43 thrill-seekers, but Desperate Journey delivers action goods, Flynn his customary compelling self, under vigorous direction by Raoul Walsh. TCM has played Desperate Journey in HD, a viewing must for the welcome upgrade.


Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I love this film and I feel it is actually better than the other classics that Hal B. Wallis was producing at the time. I remember reading about how absurd, unreal, and silly it was and to some extent it actually is. But seeing it after the first three Indiana Jones films and more stupid action productions made today, this film does not feel bad and in comparison to those other ones is quite believable now. It does feel like a serial but the few brief dramatic scenes feel very intense and sincere (like the death scene of Alan Hale, after learning his story, or Nancy Coleman's final scene in which she vanishes into darkness). That was the great touch of director Raoul Walsh who was always able to constantly switch from vulgarity and stupidity with somber seriousness and authentic drama with ease.

12:25 AM  
Blogger Gerry Dooley said...

It's a tough film to find. I don't think it's on the Warner Archive series and it's not streaming on Amazon as many other Flynn flicks are. Does anyone know why it's so hard to find?

12:49 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Thank you Greenbriar and James Agee for teaching Stinky a new word, especially since it so perfectly describes Stinky himself.

3:47 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

A cynic might ask how many other stars (and executives) were in the same metaphorical boat as Flynn, but protected by the industry's old boy network. It looks like there was an eagerness to salvage Flynn's career, perhaps encouraged by a sense of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I. Or a desire to discourage showboating lawmen in search of scalps.

Some years back a British romcom star was arrested with a transvestite prostitute. A trailer for his next film was in theaters at the time, and there was snickering at "Coming Soon". His career survived, but his characters gently veered away from the lovably harmless chaps he played before.

4:47 PM  
Blogger daveboz said...

issued by WB in 2010 on DVD as part of a five film compendium called ERROL FLYNN ADVENTURES. All the "war films".
P.S. That’s Flynn attorney Robert Ford in the pic with Flynn and Geisler.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Gerry Dooley: it was available on dvd in a box set from TCM, reviewed here:

6:48 PM  

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